Facebook answers on the criticisms around Free Basics Dilemma

Facebook is having a debate with the world through various mediums like skeptical forums, petitions to regulators and now they are using full page newspaper ads.

The subject of contention is Free Basics, Facebook and Internet.org‘s app that offers free data access but only to a limited section of the Internet. Free Basics is available in roughly 35 countries through Facebook’s partnerships with mobile carriers who see it as a way to persuade people to buy data plans.

But Facebook’s control over the technical guidelines for what qualifies for free access and its ability to highlight its own services have sparked on-going backlash from net neutrality advocates.


Half of a double full-page ad from Facebook in Sunday's Times Of India

Half of a double full-page ad from Facebook in Sunday's Times Of India http://techcrunch.com/2015/12/27/gatekeeper-or-stepping-stone/

This week regulators in India, the largest nation in the program, required Facebook’s local carrier partner Reliance to temporarily shut down Free Basics. That was despite Facebook thrusting a petition in front of its users requesting they click to send the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India an email to “Save Free Basics In India". The TRAI will make a final decision on whether to allow Free Basics next month.

To drum up more support, yesterday the VP of Internet.org  Chris Daniels did a Reddit Ask Me Anything where he denied that Facebook was becoming a gatekeeper to the Internet. And today Facebook ran a double full-page ad in The Sunday Times Of India asking readers to pledge support for its corporate-run version of free Internet, spotted by Jeff Reifman. The conclusion of this battle could impact the digital fates of over 1.2 billion Indian citizens, and set a precedent for how other nations regulate Free Basics.

Facebook is claiming that since people quickly move on from Free Basics, it’s less of a threat as a restricted replacement to the neutral Internet, and is more of a stepping stone to it. But since the future of information access is on the line, many are worried about Facebook’s motives for going to such lengths to connect the world.

The situation in some ways mirrors the divisive issue of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s pledge to put his $45 billion fortune towards helping humanity. Immense power, even seemingly benevolent power, is met with great skepticism by an Internet community. With so much at stake, many are willing to reject aid to be safe rather than sorry.